The Onion Field (1979) – Jive Talkin Criminals

The Onion Field (1979) dvd poster

I try to read as little as possible before embarking on a new film journey. All I knew about The Onion Field was it starred the brilliant James Woods as a messed up ex-con. What I wasn’t expecting was a James Woods jive talking, silver toothed, wannabe big time gangster, lunatic. He plays Gregory Ulas Powell a disturbed fast talking criminal who terrifies his new recruit to join him, a gullible recently released convict called Jimmy Lee ‘Youngblood’ Smith played by Franklyn Seales.

The Onion Field (1979) James woods gangsters

Greg, Jimmy and Billy

What I didn’t expect was a true life crime drama retelling the real events from a case which started way back in 1963. From the crime to the court cases, this film takes in the accounts of the whole unfortunate events from that one fateful day. Recounting the steps from a true crime novel written in 1973 by Joseph Wambaugh.

Tagline – What Happened In The Onion Field Is True. But The Real Crime Is What Happened After..

The Onion Field (1979) Gregory Ulas Powell Jimmy youngblood Smith

I won’t go into the specifics of the case as I try to give as little film spoiler points on my posts as possible.  I will say it’s pretty tough going but you do get rewarded with some little cameos and superb performances.

The Onion Field (1979) Ted Danson and John Savage

Ted Danson plays Detective Ian Campbell and the opening scenes have him playing the bagpipes in an old jail cell. “Just bouncing a few notes off the walls” he declares to his partner Detective Karl Hettinger played by John Savage who really just wants to be on a small farm growing tomatoes.

The Onion Field (1979) Beege Barkette 60's car

Vilos Cohaagen turns up from Total Recall aka Ronny Cox playing Sergeant Pierce R. Brooks. You get a saucy minx called Lollipop, Greg’s little girl, played by Beege Barkette. Also look out for Q from Star Trek Next Generation aka John De Lancie and old Doc Brown himself Christopher Lloyd. Oh and Blade Runner’s William Sanderson pops in as a young con.

Tagline – A True American Tragedy Captured on Film!

The Onion Field (1979) Beege Barkette james woods Franklyn Seales

All in all it’s a very harrowing account of a nasty crime and the messed up law and order politics of the time and you would hope lessons were learnt? I very much doubt it though.

Fun Fact – Brazilian samba jazz funk superstar Eumir Deodato composes the soundtrack but keeps the funky grooves to a minimum. His version of the 2001 Also Sprach Zarathustra is still totally badass.

Further reading about the case.

The Onion Field (1979) IMDB

Los Angeles Daily News 50 Years Later

Onion Field Case Encyclopedia

The Onion Field Joseph Wambaugh Goodreads

The Onion Field (1979) WIKI

4 thoughts on “The Onion Field (1979) – Jive Talkin Criminals

  1. James Woods was such a captivating actor during his heyday. He could reach right out from the screen and grab you by the throat. Kind of wish he could land another role that allows him to dig right in and score some praise from the Academy. Seen Cop or Best Seller? Promises? Long time since I’ve seen this one but I’m due for a rewatch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your so right, he really gets your attention as soon as he’s on the screen. Incredible in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America. The Hard Way with Michael J Fox is superb fun and randomly I love absolutely love his portrayal of Hades on Disney’s Hercules… I haven’t seen “Best Seller” on the list as I type and “cop” I have definitely seen on VHS rental but tbh I can’t remember it, so that’s going on watch mountain too.
      Plus looking on his profile page I see I haven’t seen Oliver Stone’s Salvador!! Don’t know how that happened!


      • Leone film a classic. Love his duet with Michael J. I should have mentioned Salvador, he’s amazing in that and scored an Oscar Nom. as he did for Ghosts of Mississippi. Though the Stallone movie The Specialist is laughable, Woods’ freak out scene with some computer geeks is one of his classic blow ups on screen.

        Liked by 1 person

        • “I’m the craziest person you’ll ever meet in your life” Haha just recapped that performance on YT. Yeah he was most excellent on that rubbish movie.
          You know when you have a gazillion films to watch but you look at the list and can’t make up your mind. I got that dilemma tonight. So I’m gonna opt for Salvador. Cheers bud

          Liked by 1 person

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